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Author Topic: Letter Weights  (Read 1675 times)

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Offline KevinH

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Letter Weights
« on: June 05, 2016, 04:54:40 PM »
This thread was created as an aid to part of a lengthy discussion on a query about a “Venetian ball” in Apsley Pellatt’s 1849 book Curiosities of Glassmaking. The discussion widened to touch on other issues, including “letter weights”.

I have constructed this post as a summary of my own findings on letter weights, but not quite as brief as I had hoped. As at the time of this post, the main references back to the initial thread are: Reply 13, Reply 22, Reply 24, Reply 25

Did Apsley Pellatt mention “letter weights”?
I found no mention of “letter weights” in Curiosities of Glass Making. That might seem odd, considering the descriptions of such items (see below). And if letter weights had been made since the time of increased interest in writing letters (1840+), surely there would have been time between then and 1849 to have added some information to the book?

However, Pellatt’s book (he called it a Treatise) was based on lectures given to the Royal  Institution and also on information in a “Memoir” on glass production published in the 1820s. He gave no indication of how long the later book was in preparation. The focus was certainly on the “how” of glassmaking rather than the specifics of output. Perhaps it would have been unseemly of him to have discussed his own products for which no special manufacturing process needed to be explained.

In the Reply 25 of the initial thread, Alan (tropdevin) provided a reference within the 1851 Great Exhibition catalogue to “letter-weights (mille fiori)”. That is very intriguing but I have found no additional information to suggest what those items actually were. However, see below for a reference by Paul H. Dunlop to “millefiori in knobs or handles”.

Basic references (providing fairly clear information)
1952 – Auction Catalogue: Sotheby & Co. Sale of the Mrs Applewhaite-Abbott Collection. Tuesday, October 21st, Lot 292
1954 – Paperweights and other glass curiosities, E. M. Elville
1977 – An Illustrated Dictionary of Glass, Harold Newman
1989 – Glass Paperweights of the Bergstrom-Mahler Museum, The City of Neena Municipal Museum Foundation, Inc.
2009 – The Dictionary of Glass Paperweights an illustrated primer, Paul H. Dunlop
2016 – Annual bulletin of the Paperweight Collectors Association, Inc.

The Sotheby’s auction entry is probably typical of various auction listings from the early 20th century to current times. Invariably, “letter weights” are given only a brief description and no illustration. The Sotheby’s Lot 292 entry simply stated:
Quote
A FRENCH LETTER WEIGHT moulded with hobnail diamonds with a knob enclosing a sulphide portrait bust of Jean Baptiste Massilon (1663-1742), 4½ in. …

Elville, in 1954, in a section on “LETTER-WEIGHTS”, page 47, said these items were:
Quote
… of the larger variety of paperweight, … up to eight inches in diameter, … often rectangular in shape with chamfered corners, sometimes with a large knop as a handle, or a pyramid-shaped finial.
And
Quote
… most specimens … the base is cut with strawberry diamonds, a favourite finish on Apsley Pellatt’s productions. A popular … incrustation [by Pellatt] … is George IV as Roman emperor. … Another … the Duke of Wellington, …

Newman, in 1977, gave the description:
Quote
A large type of Paper-Weight, usually with an oval, or rectangular flat base and a handle in the form of a central vertical metal ring or a glass finial. Some … in Hyalith glass ... some by Apsley Pellatt with ‘cameo incrustations’ … others have the base cut with strawberry diamonds.
He also illustrated a hyalith example on page 184 –
Quote
a Buqouy oval hyalith plaque ... gilt chinoiserie ... gilt bronze handle ... c 1820-30, length 12.5 cm. Kunstgewerbemuseum, Cologne.
(The item is similar to an online example linked to below – but that one is called a “paperweight”.)

The 1989 catalogue of the Bergstrom museum stated in the Introduction:
Quote
While Apsley Pellatt dominated cameo incrustation in England, 1819-40, he produced “letter weights” in geometric rather than spherical forms.
What was the meaning of that text? Does it indicate that the letter weights were made during (and after) the period stated or only after those years?

The museum acquired, in the 1980s, two examples of “letter weights”:
a) Page 5, Item 1519, attributed to Harrach Glass House, 1821-30. Very detailed description covering shape and decorative cutting, but basically a “shallow oval colorless base ... circular knop ... sulphide portrait of Nicholas I ... colorless stem between knop and base.” Size: 7.2 cm height, 6.2 cm knop diameter, 14.0 x 8.8 cm base diameter.

b) Page 3, Item 1763, attributed to Apsley Pellat, c1820. Again a very detailed description and an unusually shaped item, being essentially a very fancy cut clear panel enclosing sulphide of George IV, set on a stepped round base. Size: 10.7 cm height (i.e. longest side), 6.4 x 1.5 cm width and 7.5 x 5.0 cm base.

Dunlop, in 2009, has no entry for “letter weight”, referring instead to “Letter press”. The description is, however, much the same as other references –
Quote
... square, rectangular or round and having a handle or knob.
But the description differs in some detail such as,
Quote
... base may be clear or made with filigree
and
Quote
... knob or handle has a paperweight type decoration.
Sulphide inclusions are mentioned in connection with the French makers Clichy and St Louis. And a Venetian example by Franchini is illustrated (not described) showing a mosaic plaque set on a clear base, cut as a rectangular, flat-topped pyramid and without any knob or handle.

The 2016 PCA Bulletin illustrates on page 57, in an article on Engraved Bohemian Paperweights, one of the very few examples I have seen in my books showing a basic "stained and engraved letter weight." Its size is 9.7 cm length, 5.7 cm width and 2.4 cm thickness (very roughly 4 x 2 x 1 inch). The base of the clear block is red-stained and engraved overall with a view of lake Geneva.

Online examples
It is just as hard (for me) to find online examples of “letter weights” as it to locate them in literature. So far I have found the ones below which fit within the basic descriptions outlined above – three referred to as “paperweight”, not “letter weight”, and one which is not glass (!):

Liveauctioneers: 202 Count Buquoy Bohemian Hyalith Paperweight

Saunteantiques.com – Sulphide Paperweight by Apsley Pellatt

Red Hyalith Glass Paperweight – Shape of a Book
This item is quite like a couple of others I have seen, in books or online, but I cannot recall where. They are large enough to have also been called “letter weights” and would fit well with the detailed description in Newman’s dictionary.

The Saleroom.com – Silver Plate Letter Weight – Kangaroo Finial
Ok – it’s not glass but it is a bit of fun, and shows that “finials” could mean almost anything!


More information
More links or literature references with extra information would be welcome. In fact, any additional input to this thread as a specific topic for Letter Weights could be useful.
KevinH

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2016, 05:54:35 PM »
I have one (I 'think'?)
  I don't know what it's made of as I've never been able to work it out.  It's some form of stone enamelled over possibly, it's extremely heavy almost as though it's iron but I don't think it is.  Possibly French but I think at least Victorian in era - reminds me of something a governmental department office might use.
The millefiori weight is large btw.  Not a miniature.

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2016, 07:11:45 PM »
[Mod: very long link converted to clickable text]
Google Books: Paperweights 101 - Preview

PAPERWEIGHTS 101: An Introduction to Collecting Glass Paperweights
By Doris B. Robinson
pp27

'It was recorded that "letter weights" were displayed at an exhibition in Birmingham in 1849' - written in reference to Bacchus.
(Somewhere I found a list of the items on display in Birmingham in 1849) I'll try and find it again.
m

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2016, 07:35:14 PM »
I wondered if it might be a case of 'lost in translation'?
The one in the Great Exhibition catalogue was from a maker in Vienna. 

Then there are three mentioned here in  a WMF Art Nouveau Catalogue
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=8gvrAAAAMAAJ&q=letterweight&dq=letterweight&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwjbxqH_z5HNAhVkAsAKHac0C8EQ6AEIHjAA
page 268 and also on page 289
Art Nouveau Domestic Metalwork from Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik: The English Catalogue 1906

However that wouldn't explain the mention of Bacchus producing 'letter-weights' for the Birmingham exhibition 1849.
But then by 1862 Queen Victoria was requesting 'paperweights' made of marble specimens from Frogmore House

http://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/holloways-auctioneers/catalogue-id-srhol10011/lot-171090c7-ac2f-4fcb-9f63-a45300f472d5

Perhaps 'letter-weight' just means paperweight?
or 'became' known as paperweight

I could not find any references in the Harrach book 'From Neuwelt to the Whole World'.  But it is a massive tome and very difficult to reference quickly as the index does not cover items.

m

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2016, 09:07:50 PM »
1) on the Selman blog I found this :
http://www.theglassgallery.com/blog/book/the-art-of-the-paperweight/chapter-3/2/

'The glassworks, which initially specialized in domestic glassware and plate glass, began experimenting with fancy Y’enetian-style glass and paperweights in the 1840s. “Letter weights,” as they were sometimes called, were never more than a minute part of the company’s production; however, they did attract attention. In 1849, an article in the .1/7 Union Monthly Journal of the Arts had this to say:

The introduction of these ingenious and pretty ornaments from Bohemia has induced some of our glass manufacturers to turn their attention to the production of similar objects. We have seen a large number of home manufacture, which, for beauty and variety of colour, are equal to the best imported; and in design are superior to them. .Mr. Bacchus, an eminent glass manufacturer of Birmingham, has produced some that deserve special notice for their novelty and elegance.

Most of the weights made by Bacchus are large, usually more than three inches in diameter.'


And

2) This snippet came up on google search but I'm unable to find the entire section and so cannot check if it is correct:
apparently from Homes and Gardens - volume 19 - page 195 (1937?)

'Some years ago Her Majesty Queen Mary gave a dozen letter-weights of this type, containing views of the town, to the Brighton Museum. Other glass weights enshrine Apsley Pellatt medallions, classic cameos in low relief of royal personages'

Which led me to this
https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/3658/paperweight


'Apsley Pellatt (1753-1826)
Paperweight  1820-35
Glass with sulphide cameo | RCIN 3658

Shaped rectangular glass paperweight on an oval star-cut glass base, with a cut-away top and sulphide cameo of Frederick, Duke of York in profile to the left; the rear of the panel with deeply cut horizontal lines.

Provenance

Probably acquired by Queen Mary.'

Also in the Royal Collection but still called a paperweight and unfortunately with the wrong photo attached!
https://www.royalcollection.org.uk/collection/3674/paperweight

'Apsley Pellatt (1753-1826)

Paperweight  early nineteenth century
Glass with sulphide cameo | RCIN 3674
Small rectangular glass paperweight, diapered on all sides except smooth front. Sulphide cameo of white draped female figure, leaning against column with dog, set into front.
Provenance
Probably acquired by Queen Mary'
 

So possibly whilst Homes and Gardens called them 'letter-weights' they may now be catalogued as paperweights?

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2016, 10:05:44 PM »
Cyclopædia of useful arts & manufactures, ed. by C. Tomlinson. 9 divs (written sometime between 1852 edition and 1866 edition) :)

https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=DPgGAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA784&dq=pellatt+letter-weights&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwixmvv88JHNAhUhCMAKHe6GBmUQ6AEIPzAF#v=onepage&q=letter-weights&f=false

pp 759
'Venice was celebrated for that kind of ornamental glass, the manufacture of which has recently been revived in the form of letter-weights, and named by the French mille-fiore glass, in which a number of coloured glass flowers and ornaments are imbedded in a lump of transparent white glass'.

I'm afraid I could not find a date for when this was published but from information on the link below it appears to have been sometime between 1852 and 1866?
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tomlinson%27s_Cyclopaedia_of_Useful_Arts

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #6 on: June 06, 2016, 08:27:17 AM »
see post above and also
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=QwtEAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA153&dq=letter-weight+glass&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiqi6Tv-pLNAhVM1RoKHcHfCUoQ6AEILjAC#v=onepage&q=letter-weight%20glass&f=false

The World of Science, Art, and Industry: Illustrated from Examples in the ...
edited by Benjamin Silliman, Charles Rush Goodrich
1853-1854
pp 153

Description of letter-weight see photograph of paragraph - two references to letter weights, one at the start of the paragraph and the other highlighted.
Appears to be describing a millefiore paperweight.

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2016, 01:45:38 PM »
oh look  :o  :o  (or did we already know this?)
https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=j5XFNhUmMt8C&pg=PA1038&dq=letter-weight+mille-fiore&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiQ49riwpPNAhWMPRoKHaVWBcQQ6AEIJTAA#v=onepage&q=mille-fiore&f=false

1851 catalogue of Great Exhibition

page 1038 Under Austria entry number 606
J Pfeiffer & Co, Gablonz, Bohemia (Agent, Oscar Frauerknecht,  80 Bishopsgate Street Within, London)
'Letter-weights, mille fiori' 



In a post on the other thread Alan said:

***

I thought the first clear reference to a 'paperweight' like object with millefiori in a glass ball was by Sabellico in 1495.  But what you actually call them is another matter.  Around 1845 - 1850 in the UK they were called 'letter weights', more often than 'paperweights'.  I do not know when that latter phrase was first used, or became popular, but it was not an obvious choice, to my mind.

Alan 

The reference I have just given shows them listed as 'letter-weights, mille fiori' in the 1851 catalogue. 

But by 1862 Queen Victoria was asking for 'paperweights'( Reply #3):
http://www.the-saleroom.com/en-gb/auction-catalogues/holloways-auctioneers/catalogue-id-srhol10011/lot-171090c7-ac2f-4fcb-9f63-a45300f472d5
A Victorian specimen marble paperweight, of pink marble inlaid with 15 different stones, bearing a white metal plaque engraved 'Royal Mausoleum / Frogmore / 1868', 8.5 x 14 x 2.5 cm (3 1/2 x 5 1/2 x 1 in) Note: This paperweight, probably one of several although no others appear to have come to light, was created on the instructions of Queen Victoria. In December 1862 she expressed a wish to A. J. Humbert, the Mausoleum's architect, 'to have specimens of all the marble & granite stones used in the Mausoleum prepared, about the size of paperweights'. Humbert proposed making a small wooden case with sliding trays, but the Queen's Assistant Private Secretary, Sir Charles Phipps, replied that she wanted paperweights and asked Humbert to prepare two or three designs and send them to Osborne. (Correspondence in the Royal Archives)'



for future searches:

Letter weights millefiori millefiore mille fiore

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Offline KevinH

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2016, 03:25:37 PM »
Hi m, I think you might need to slow down a bit ...  :)

Yes, we already knew about the 1851 exhibition entry for J Pfeiffer & co. Alan (tropdevin) had provided that information in the thread about Venetian balls (etc.)
KevinH

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Re: Letter Weights
« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2016, 03:30:50 PM »
Generally, I do think that the evidence so far shows that "letter weight" and "paper weight" have been used by various folk in various reports, books etc. as an interchangeable term.

But the definitions by such as Elville (1954 book) and Newman (1977 dictionary) have tried to make a distinction by size (and possibly shape) of the items - i.e. "Letter weights" are "large paperweights".
KevinH

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